November 28, 2023

When cellist Yo-Yo Ma needed new headquarters for his Silk Road project in 2005, Roger Mandle, then president of the Rhode Island School of Design, gave the organization a home on his campus.

When a member of the Qatar royal family tried to make their country an art destination in 2008, Mr. Mandle took on the development of more than a dozen museums in Doha.

And when some questioned the quixotic nature of a startup art museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 2016, Mr. Mandle persisted and, along with his wife, Gayle Wells Mandle, managed to found the Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute.

Mr. Mandle died on November 28th at his home in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He was 79 years old. Ms. Mandle, a mixed media painter, said the cause was cancer.

“Roger Mandle had the soul of an artist, the character of a gentleman and the wisdom of a statesman,” Ma said in an interview.

Mr. Mandle was Executive Director and Chief Officer of Museums at the Qatar Museums Authority from 2008 to 2012, managing the Museum of Islamic Art and the Qatar Natural History Museum, among others.

Working closely with Sheikha al Mayassa and Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the main buyer in the art market at the time, Mr Mandle organized the construction of several museums, including the National Museum of Qatar, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel .

Mr. Mandle also personally directed important installations in Qatar with artists such as Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra and Takashi Murakami.

“He helped build a roadmap for the development of the arts program in Qatar,” said Edward Dolman, Phillips auction house executive who served three years as director of the Sheikha office and also acted as acting manager of Qatar Museums.

“The great thing about Qatar at the time,” said Dolman, “was that you could experiment and there was a lot of talk about the role of museums.”

Earl Roger Mandle was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on May 13, 1941, to Phyllis Key Oberg Mandle, who worked in apparel design, and Earl Simmons Mandle, a graphic designer who entered the family meat business.

He wanted to be an artist and studied painting at Williams College. He switched to art history and museum studies while doing his Masters at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1967.

Mr. Mandle became an expert on Dutch painting in the 18th century and, as deputy director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, organized a major exhibition on the subject.

This show earned him the attention of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, where he spent approximately 15 years, first as assistant director and then as director. He organized a major exhibition of El Greco, the 16th century Spanish artist, which drew record crowds in 1982 and which, as the New York Times said at the time, “was recognized as the most important exhibition of this artist ever put together”.

That show, in turn, prompted J. Carter Brown, then director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, to appoint Mr. Mandle as his deputy and chief curator. He worked at the National Gallery from 1988 to 1993.

During this time, Mr. Mandle was also a member of the National Art Council under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush and helped shape US art and design policy.

Mr. Mandle became President of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence in 1993. Over 15 years, he quadrupled the school’s endowment to $ 400 million and oversaw the creation of a museum designed by another Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Rafael Moneo.

During his presidency at the Rhode Island School, Mr. Mandle wrote his dissertation on Dutch 18th century art at night. He has a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 2002, although it remained open to undergraduate students.

“Despite his busy schedule, he never missed an opportunity to meet with students,” said an entry on a website made in his honor. “You adored him.”

Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Mandle “was an early proponent of my doing business on campus.”

After Mr. Mandle returned to Rhode Island from Qatar, he served on numerous boards including the American Association of Museums, Williams College Museum of Art, Clark Art Museum and Silk Road.

The design institute he and his wife founded continued to showcase free exhibitions, performances and educational programs of contemporary art in various outdoor locations.

In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1964, Mr. Mandle survived a son, Luke; one daughter, Julia Mandle; a sister, Julia Kiechel; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Gardner’s other great passions were gardening and poetry. He often combined them.

In a statement, the family called gardening “a good metaphor for his philosophy of life, lovingly caring for and looking after everyone around him in order to reach their highest potential.”

In a poem he wrote:

I feel warmth on my neck now that is coming
Spring; Time to order everything below. Prepare the ground
For the next round: devil’s tongue, iceberg, rocket!
The throb of the tractor hub, the blow of the shovel –
I stab the dirt and put out the last shower.